The History and Antiquities of London, Westminster, Southwark, and Parts Adjacent, vol. 2Allen, Thomas
An Account of the River Thames.
An Account of the River Thames.
The river Thames, the principal source of the wealth of the British metropolis, though certainly not the largest, yet, in respect of its navigation and produce, is the chief river in the world. The limits of an island are a natural bar to that extent of course, which is considered the boast of many continental rivers, but, in utility and commercial convenience, the Thames is to none.
rises from a copious spring, called Thameshead, miles south-west of Cirencester, in Gloucestershire. It has been erroneously said, that its name is Isis, till it arrives at Dorchester, miles below Oxford, when, being joined by the Thame, or Tame, it assumes the name of the Thames, which, it has been observed, is formed from the combination of the words Thame and Isis. The origin of this popular error cannot now be traced; poetical fiction has, however, perpetuated and invested it with a kind of classical sanctity. Camden says,
He likewise says, that it no where occurs under the name of Isis. All the historians who mention the incursions of Ethelwold into Wiltshire, in the year , or that of Canute, in , concur likewise in the same opinion, by declaring that they passed the Thames at Cricklade, in Wiltshire. Neither is it probable that Thames-head, an appellation by which the source has usually been distinguished, should give rise to a river of the name of Isis; which river after having run half its course, should re-assume the name of Thames, the appellation of its present spring.
About a mile below the source of the river is the corn-mill, which is called Kemble Mill. Here the river may properly be said to form a constant current; which, though not more than feet wide in the summer, yet in the winter becomes such a torrent, as to overflow the meadows for many miles around. But insummer the Thames-head is so dry as to appear nothing but a large dell, interspersed with stones and weeds.
From Somerford the stream winds to Cricklade, where it unites with many other rivulets. Approaching Kernsford, it again enters its native county, dividing it from Berkshire, at Ingleshem. It widens considerably in its way to Lechlade; and being there joined by the Lech and Coln, at the distance of miles from London, it becomes navigable for vessels of tons.
At Ensham, in its course north-east to Oxford, is the stone bridge, a handsome , of arches, built by the earl of Abingdon. Passing the ruins of Godstow nunnery, celebrated as the place of interment of Fair Rosamond, the river reaches Oxford, in whose academic groves its poetical name of Isis has been so often invoked. Being there joined by the Charwell, it proceeds southeast to Abingdon, and thence to Dorchester, where it receives the Thame. Continuing its course south-east, by Wallingford, to Reading, and forming a boundary to the counties of Berks, Bucks, Surrey, Middlesex, Essex, and Kent, it washes the towns of Henley, Marlow, Maidenhead, Windsor, Eton, Egham, Staines, and Chertsey. Here the stream flows with much grandeur through an elegant stone bridge.
Advancing to Weybridge, the river is increased by the waters of the Wey from Surrey and Hampshire, and flowing onward through the luxuriant meadows between Shepperton and Oatlands, is crossed by the high arches of Walton bridge, which is a bold structure of brick with stone facings. At Sunbury are several splendid mansions and ornamented grounds; but the Surrey border is for some distance destitute of picturesque scenery.
Between Hampton and Kingston, the Thames makes another bold curve round the park and gardens of , and passing East Moulsey, where it receives an accession of waters from the Mole, which, rising near the southern borders of Surrey, in the forest of Tilgate, intersects that county nearly in the middle.
Kingston, anciently the residence of various Saxon monarchs, is next visited by the Thames, which here flows under a new stone bridge of arches; (here was formerly a woodenbridge of great antiquity ;) the Thames is now joined by a small rivulet from the neighbourhood of Epsom. Hence, passing Teddington (said to be a corruption from Tide-end town), the majestic stream rolls onward in a northerly course to Twickenham, Richmond, and Kew; its banks being skirted by magnificent villas, seats, and palaces. Near Teddington, appear the Gothic turrets of Strawberry-hill, the tasteful erection of the late earl of Orford; and at a little distance beyond that, was once the elegant seat of the poet on whom the muses lavished all their softer graces; Alexander Pope, esq. now, alas! levelled with the ground in the very wantonness of innovation. Still further, on the Middlesex side, are Marble-hall and Twickenham-park, and on the opposite shores are the well wooded precincts and villas of Petersham, Ham, and Richmond. The prospects from the latter spot are well known to fame, and poetry has not been wanting to display their charms. Thomson who lived at Rossdale house between Richmond and Kew, and lies buried in Richmond church, has thus celebrated its beauties in his Seasons:
From the well-finished and elegantly-shaped bridge at Richmond, the Thames makes a bold sweep, passes Isleworth and Sion-house, to Brentford and Kew-bridge. On the Surrey borders, the gardens of Richmond and Kew extend their delightful walks. On the Middlesex side, at Isleworth, the river is augmented by the Cran, or Crane; and further on are the demesnes of Sion-house, the stately seat of the duke of Northumberland. The busy and irregular town of Brentford next presents itself; here the river, contracted by a line of islands overgrown with oziers, loses for some distance its dignified character; though, at the same time, its stream is enlarged by the Brent, which gives name to the county-town; here also the Grand Junction canal has its union with the Thames.
From Kew-bridge the river flows proudly on in sweeping curves between populous shores, skirted with villages and fine seats. Mortlake, Barnes, Chiswick, and Hammersmith, with their elegant villas and pleasure grounds, successively meet the eye. At Chiswick, is the pleasant seat of the duke of Devonshire, the grounds of which were laid out in the Italian
|style, and the villa built after a design of Palladio, by the late earl of Burlington, and at Barnes Elms, an elegant new suspension bridge.|
The villages of Putney and Fulham, which are connected with each other by a long wooden bridge, next arrest the attention; and here begins that bustle of population and frequency of building, which for many miles from this point, accompany the windings of the stream. Putney, on the Surrey shore, is associated with our historical remembrances, from being the native place of the eloquent Gibbon, and of Thomas Cromwell, earl of Essex, and vicar-general, the once highly cherished favourite of Henry the , but afterwards the victim of that sanguinary tyrant. At Fulham, on the Middlesex side, is the venerable palace of the bishops of London; a brick edifice, surrounded by a moat.
Opposite to Wandsworth, the little river Wandle falls into the Thames; this stream is formed by small rivulets, that rise in the neighbourhood of Banstead Downs and the town of Croydon, and is famous for its bleaching mills and printing grounds. As the river proceeds, it swells into an extensive reach beyond , a substantial wooden fabric, that connects Battersea with the populous village of ; where among various other objects of interest, is the college, or hospital, for disabled and superannuated soldiers, and the botanical garden belonging to the company of apothecaries of London.
The reach between and , presents fewer subjects for remark than its direct vicinity to the metropolis would lead to expect; and the bordering scenery has mostly a rural character and appropriation. On passing through , a light and elegant structure of cast iron, the archiepiscopal palace of Canterbury, on the Surrey side, and the lofty piles of Westminster-hall and abbey, on the Middlesex shore, with the intervening bridge, and the numerous edifices that rise in proud succession beyond, break the sameness of the views, and assert the contiguity of an extensive city.
says Mr. Noble,
The commencement of the city of on the other bank, is more ornamental, though not adequate to the situation. The abbey, indeed, detains the eye by a solemn grandeur, not unworthy of the sentiments which its name and destination inspire; and the majesty of the bridge which bestrides and seems to exercise dominion over the
|broad stream that flows beneath, renders it a suitable entrance to the splendour of the commercial metropolis of Europe.|
Between the bridges of , Waterloo, and Blackfriars, the Thames moves majestically along in a bold sweep; its banks on the Middlesex side are crowded with buildings, some of them of considerable interest; and on the Surrey shore, with a numerous but very irregular assemblage of private wharfs, timber-yards, and other repositories, devoted to the purposes of trade and manufactures. The effect of the whole scene is highly increased by the vast cathedral of St. Paul, which rises with impressive grandeur and in all the pride of Grecian architecture, from the most elevated part of the city. At Blackfriars, the width of the river is about feet less than at .
The London shore, between Blackfriars, , and London bridges, is occupied by a continued range of wharfs, yards, warehouses, &c.
The Surrey side is partly covered with wharfs, glass-houses, warehouses, dye-houses, and iron founderies, and partly forms an open street, called Bank-side, which is the only uninterrupted walk of any length on the immediate bank of the Thames, during its whole course through the cities of London and .
forms the partition between the river navigation, and the sea navigation, of the Thames; immediately below it commences the port of London, and the forest of masts that rises in direct view, and stretches beyond the reach of sight, announces the prodigious magnitude of that commerce which supplies the wants of an immense metropolis, and extends its arms to the remotest part of the globe. The limits of the port reach from , to the North Foreland in Kent, and to the Naze in Essex; but the ships trading to London, usually moor from the bridge to , in which space it is computed that about sail can lie afloat, at the moorings, at low water. This space is called ; the part near the bridge, on account of the shallowness of the water, is occupied by the smaller vessels, and the lower part by the larger. The very crowded and inconvenient state in which the merchant vessels used formerly to be moored in the pool, has been remedied of late years by the formation of several large docks at different distances on the river, between the Tower and Bow Creek.
Below , on the Middlesex side, the shore presents a series of wharfs and warehouses for a considerable distance, with the exception of the and the Tower. The opposite, or shore, from London-bridge downwards, is occupied nearly in the same manner by a succession of buildings, yards, &c. all appropriated to, or connected with, maritime concerns.
From the entrance of Limehouse-reach, the river flows in a remarkable bend, of a horse-shoe form, round the ; in a commodious part of which, adjoining to Poplar, the , and a canal have been formed. Beyond these are the and , and about half a mile further is Bow Creek, where the river Lea falls into the Thames, and the latter river quits the shores of Middlesex. On the Kent side, which faces the , the Greenland-docks, with various buildings for the boiling and preparation of oil, the dock-yards and victualling-office at Deptford, and the magnificent hospital for disabled seamen at Greenwich, with Greenwich-park, the royal observatory, and the Kentish hills in the distance, form a of considerable beauty.
As the Thames rolls onward to the sea between the shores of Kent and Essex, its reaches become more expansive, and its depth increases; whilst upon its bosom, the bulwarks of Britain's glory spread their sails in full security, and in their every variety of burthen. The Essex side, for several miles below the mouth of the Lea, presents only a level of marshes, broken by the creeks of Barking and Dagenham; further on, the vast magazines for gunpowder at Purfleet, the little town of Gray's Thurrock, and the fortifications at Tilbury-fort, enliven the prospect, though the line of coast still continues low and marshy.
On the Kentish side, below the , the river makes another sweep to reach Woolwich, which, besides the interest it excites as a dock-yard, is the principal arsenal for warlike stores in England, and now the head quarters of the royal artillery. The various important buildings belonging to this town, with the new Military Academy, and Shooter's hill in the distance, afford a striking contrast to the marshy grounds which succeed, and skirt the river for several miles, till the woody heights of Lesnes and Erith again give variety to the prospect. Near Erith commences that part of the river called Long-reach, where the homeward-bound East Indiamen generally anchor for a few days, to be lightened of some portion of their cargoes, and where the Darent silently mingles its waters with the Thames.
Another remarkable bend in the river, called, in its respective divisions, reach, and the South Hope, leads on to Northfleet, where the chalk rocks are excavated to a vast extent, and where many curious fossils have been found. At this place commences Gravesend-reach, so named from the corporate town of Gravesend, which lies directly opposite to Tilbury Fort, and communicates with the Essex shore by a horse ferry: the river is here about a mile in breadth. Many vessels are continually at anchor off Gravesend, as all outward-bound ships are obliged to
|stop here till visited by the Custom-house officers; and most of them take in their supply of live stock and vegetables from this town.|
The river now rolls onward in a northerly course, bordered by an increasing tract of marshes, round the point of land at East Tilbury; but soon winding once more to the east, it forms the widened channel called the South Hope. Here the shores rapidly recede, and the majestic stream, flowing past the Isle of Canvey, and Shoebury Ness, on the Essex side, mingles its waters with the ocean at the Nore. On the Kentish side, between the extreme point of the Isle of Graine, and the fortress and dock-yard at Sheerness, the Medway pours forth its tributary flood, which is the last that the Thames receives before its junction with the sea; the distance between the opposite shores at the Nore is about miles.
The tides flow up the Thames to the distance of between and miles from its mouth; and occur twice in every hours.
The fall of water in the Thames, from Oxford to Maidenhead, is about feet every miles; from Maidenhead to Chertsey-bridge, feet every miles; from Chertsey bridge to Mortlake, feet every miles; and from Mortlake to London, about foot per mile; afterwards the fall diminishes more gradually till the river unites with the sea.
The Thames westward has several locks, without which, owing to the great number of shoals, it would not be navigable in summer. The locks within the city's jurisdiction, according to a return made by order of the house of commons, yielded to the city a revenue of for the year ending the . Upwards of had, however, to be deducted for incidental repairs. The profits of the locks have been a good deal injured by canals, yet the interests of the city have been protected; since we find in the same parliamentary return, that the Grand Junction Canal company paid to the city for compensation for loss of toll that year; and the company
The plan of new cuts has been adopted in some places, to shorten and facilitate the navigation. There is near Lechlade, which runs nearly parallel to the old river, and contiguous to bridge; and there is another, a mile from Abingdon, which has rendered the old stream, towards Culham-bridge, useless.
A canal was made, in , from the Severn to Wallbridge, near Stroud. A new canal now ascends by Stroud,
|through the vale of Chalford, to the height of feet, by means of locks; and thence to the entrance of the tunnel, near Sapperton, a distance of nearly miles, the canal is feet in width at the top, and at the bottom. The tunnel, which passes under Sapperton-hill, and that part of earl Bathurst's grounds, called Haleywood, a distance of miles and furlongs, is feet in width, and navigable with barges of tons. Descending hence by locks, the canal joins the Thames at Lechlade, the level of which is feet below the tunnel, and the distance upwards of miles. The whole extent of this vast undertaking is more than miles, and the expence of it exceeded the sum of . This canal was completed in .|
A similar communication with the northern and eastern parts of the island has been effected by means of the Grand Junction canal, extending from the Thames at Brentford, to a canal which unites the Trent and Mersey, with which it communicates at Braunston; and a branch from this canal has been lately opened from Bull's-bridge to Paddington, and from thence skirting the suburbs of the metropolis to , where it enters the Thames.
To enumerate the many advantages which necessarily result from these artificial navigations between the metropolis and the ports of Bristol, Liverpool, Hull, &c. as well as the principal manufacturing towns in the inland parts of the kingdom, would extend this digression from the immediate subject in question too far: it will, therefore, be sufficient to observe here, that as the promoting of commerce is the principal intention in making canals, their frequency in a nation must bear a proportion to the trade carried on in it.
The principal fish caught in this river, are sturgeon, (occasionally,) salmon, salmon-trout, tench, barbel, roach, dace, chub, bream, gudgeon, ruffe, smelts, eels, and flounders; the latter kinds are particularly good.
The bed of this fine river is either of gravel or clay, according to the nature of the soil through which it flows, and it produces, in different parts of its course, every species of fish found in the other rivers of Britain, except , viz. the burbot, the loach, and the samlet.
In the year , sir John Woodcock, mayor, being informed that a great number of wears had been erected in the river, to the destruction of the young fry, and the damage of the navigation, caused all the wears, from Staines bridge to the river Medway, to be destroyed, and the nets burnt; which, by virtue of the city charter, was judged lawful, against the opposition made thereto by the archbishop of Canterbury.
In the following orders were set forth during the mayoralty of sir Thomas Pullington.
, that there should be no perprestures, encroachments, wharfs, banks, walls, or buildings of houses, in or upon the Thames, to the stopping of the passage.
Item, that no dung, rubbish, or other filth, be cast into the Thames.
Item, that no posts or stakes be fixed in the Thames.
Item, that the fair-way be kept as deep and large as heretofore it hath been.
No person shall sell, utter, or take any fish, contrary to the ancient assize set down by decree, viz.
Pyke, inches; barbel, inches; salmon, inches; trout, inches; tench, inches; roach, inches; dace, inches; flounders, inches; but carp, aloes, chevin, pearch, eels, gudgeons, smelts, bleaks, shad, mackerel, lampreis, lamprons, are not yet assized.
Fence month and times, in which these fishes are not to be taken; for
Salmons; between the Nativity of our Lord, and .
Kipper salmons; not to be taken at any time of the year.
Trout; between Michaelmas and Christmas.
Roaches; between days before , and days after.
Lampreis and lamprons, between the and the .
No fishermen, garthmen, petermen, draymen, or trinckermen, shall avaunce or set up any wears, engines, rowte-wears, pightwears, foot-wears, nor make any stalker-nets, trinck-nets, pursenets, casting-nets, berd-nets, pot-nets, barrock-nets at crooks, heaving-nets, except they be inches in the meish.
Nets forbidden ; also the measure of certain nets.
Bley-nets, must be inches and a half.
Dray-nets and kiddals, forbidden.
Cod-nets, to be used between Candlemas and Lady-day.
Treat-nets, peter-nets, must be inches large in the meish, except between Candlemas and our Lady-day in Lent.
A pride-net, not to be occupied but by special licence of the water-bailiff, and not above a yard in length.
Places inhabited to fish in, called water-friths; viz.
Mill-dams, locks, and such like.
Goose-fleet, at Busherd.
Well-fleet, at the Mase.
St. Saviour' milne by west.
White bait at Gowlch, or bloodbag.
But these orders were more strongly enforced by those which
|sir Robert Ducy, lord mayor, , afterwards set forth by this title:|
In the year , sir Daniel Lambert, knt. being then lord mayor and conservator of the river Thames, and the waters of Medway, at the request of the court of aldermen, added several good and wholesome orders to those of sir Robert Ducy, as follow, viz.
After all these laws, orders, and precautions for the preservation of the river Thames from annoyances, it has been frequently objected that they are deficient, or at least suspended, in regard to the many stops, dams, or locks, which are very numerous above bridge, as high as the Thames is navigable. But those locks are of great use to the public, without which, tradesmen and farmers, whose markets depend on water-carriage to and from the west of London could not carry on their business.
The Thames sometimes overflows its banks considerably in the metropolis. The most memorable instance of this sort was on the , when in consequence of heavy rains and a
| high wind, the river was forced into the king's palace at , and into Westminster-hall, a circumstance particularly unfortunate, as it was the day on which the lord mayor of London had to present the sheriffs to the barons of the exchequer. Stow says, |
but he does not inform us whether the city magistrates presented the sheriffs in a boat or not, though he informs us by report that morning, that
All the marshes on the side were also so overflowed, that
In there was another great overflow; and again on the d of , when considerable damage was done to the wharfs along both sides of the river. , which always suffered most from an inundation of the Thames, saw boats plying, instead of hackney coaches, in Palace-yard and Privy-gardens.
In the winter of the Thames again burst its bounds; though neither promoted by an easterly wind, nor a sudden thaw. It appears by an official report presented by officers appointed to make a survey of the river, that the flood rose inches higher than it did in , as recorded by a stone let into a wall at Shepperton. Considerable damage was done above , yet the navigation of the river in the city district was never an hour impeded.
In , the tide rose several feet higher than usual, and entered the excavations forming for St. Katherine's dock, which it quickly filled; no particular damage was sustained.
Various amusements have, at different times, taken place on the Thames, adapted to the taste and character of the age. The water quintain has already been noticed; it has, however, ceased, and at present rowing and sailing matches seem the only sports with which it is occupied. Of these, of the most remarkable is the competition for a coat and silver badge, which Dogget the player appointed to be rowed for, annually, by watermen, on the , being the anniversary of the accession of the house of Hanover to the throne. The competitors set out on a signal given, at that time of the tide when the current is strongest against them, and row from the Old Swan, near , to the White Swan, in .
A curious discovery was made by a fisherman, near , about a century ago; on drawing in his net he found the great seal of England, which had been thrown into the Thames by James II. on his flight from .
About or , another seal was drawn from the bed of
|the river, opposite ; it was of silver and very thick, beautifully executed, and in fine condition. It appears to have been the official seal of the port of London.|
The jurisdiction of the lord mayor and corporation of London, over the Thames, extends from Colne-ditch, above Staines-bridge, in the west, to the Yenlet, or, as it is called in old deeds, Yenland versus mare, in the east, and includes part of the rivers Lea and Medway.
On the banks of the river, at Colne-ditch, not far from the church of Staines, stands what is called London mark-stone, which is the ancient boundary to the city jurisdiction on the Thames. On a moulding, round the upper part of the stone (which is much decayed by age) is inscribed
This stone was, during the mayoralty of sir Watkin Lewes, knt. in , placed on a new pedestal, on which is inscribed, that it was erected exactly over the spot where the old formerly stood.
Not only the water of the Thames, with the fish therein, belongs to the city, but also the soil and ground of it, as appears from the following memorandum found among the manuscripts of Burleigh, lord treasurer in the reign of queen Elizabeth.
The lord mayor has a deputy, or substitute, called the water-bailiff, whose office is to search for, and punish such offenders as may be found infringing the laws made for the preservation of the river. He also holds courts of conservancy yearly, in the counties of Middlesex, Essex, Surrey, and Kent, and impannels a jury of each county, to make inquisition of all offences committed on the said river, in order to proceed against those who may be found offending.
The account of the Thames cannot be better closed than with sir John Denham's admirable description of this river.
 Brayley's History, i. 59.
 The weedy shallows and small islands about Richmond and Twickenham, are famous for their eels, and many parties are formed in the metropolis in the summer months, for the purpose of making excursions up the river, to partake of the luxury of feeding on this fish, when newly caught.
 Brayley's London, i. 65.
 The Nore is a sand bank lying in mid-channel, on which a floating light is constantly kept for the safety of the navigation of the river.
 Engraved on the plan of the river Thames, p. 430. ante. An engraving of it is in Laing's plans of the Custom House and another in Hone's Every Day Book, vol. ii. col. 881.
 It is engraved in the plan of the river Thames, p. 430, ante.